Sleep and Stroke

How was your sleep last night? Did you get enough healthy and restorative sleep?

In today’s fast-paced, always connected, perpetually harried and sleep-deprived world, our need for a restorative night’s sleep is more important and elusive than ever. According to Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor in chief of the Huffington Post, we are in the midst of a sleep deprivation crisis. And this has profound consequences – on our health, our job performance, our relationships and our happiness, she wrote in her book The Sleep Revolution. Surprisingly, many are still not fully aware of the health risks associated with insomnia and poor sleep quality.

On this World Stroke Day 0n 29th October 2016, it is timely to note that research have shown a link between lack of sleep and stroke. A study, published in 2011 in the European Heart Journal, examined the sleep habits of more than 470,000 participants across eight countries, and reported that – “prolonged sleep deprivation increases the risk of suffering from a stroke or heart disease”.

Chronic short sleep produces hormones and chemicals in the body, which increases the risk of developing heart disease, strokes and other conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, according to Dr Michelle Miller of Warwick University.

Professor Francesco Cappuccio, who co-authored the report said: “If you sleep less than six hours per night and have disturbed sleep you stand a 48% greater chance of developing or dying from heart disease and a 15% greater chance of developing or dying from a stroke. The trend for late nights and early mornings is actually a ticking time bomb for our health so you need to act now to reduce your risk of developing these life-threatening conditions.”

He also said, “By ensuring you have about seven hours’ sleep a night, you are protecting your future health, and reducing the risk of developing chronic illnesses. The link is clear from our research: get the sleep you need to stay healthy and live longer.”

A three-year study2 of 5,666 adults, presented at SLEEP 2012 conference, found that stroke risk was four times higher for those who habitually sleep less than six hours a night. To the surprise of the researchers at the University of Alabama, the risk applied to adults who were of normal weight, had no risk factors or history of stroke, and at low risk of sleep apnea or other sleep problems.

“People know how important diet and exercise are in preventing strokes. The public is less aware of the impact of insufficient amounts of sleep. Sleep is important – the body is stressed when it doesn’t get the right amount,” said lead author Megan Ruiter of the University of Alabama study.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also warns that poor sleep is associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Professor Valery Gafarov, professor of cardiology at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “Sleep is not a trivial issue. In our study it was associated with double the risk of a heart attack and four times the risk of stroke. Poor sleep should be considered a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease along with smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet. Guidelines should add sleep as a risk factor to recommendations for preventing cardiovascular disease.”

There are many more studies. They highlight the same take home message. Getting enough sleep is just as important as controlling blood pressure, reducing stress, exercising frequently, avoiding excessive alcohol intake, not smoking and eating a well-balanced diet, in managing risk of stroke.

Tips to improve sleep
Many factors may contribute to lack of quality sleep. Bearing in mind that inadequate sleep can hurt your heart health, you should try to pinpoint the underlying causes. Do you have a particular medical issue? Are you stressed? Are you on medications that may keep you awake at night? How is your sleep hygiene? These are important questions to ask yourself when trying to improve your sleep.

A further key question is whether you are getting the healthy and restorative sleep your body needs. Healthy and restorative sleep occurs during slow wave deep sleep and REM sleep stages. It is during these stages that our body rest and repair physically, emotionally and mentally, most effectively. Studies have shown that L-Theanine, an extract of green tea, and alpha casein tryptic hydrolysate, a peptide from milk, have calming properties that helps promote sleep quality and improve relaxation.